By Liam Bouquet and Frank George
After months of contention, Youngstown State University administrators and faculty union leaders may be one step closer to reaching an overarching tentative agreement on faculty contracts.
Though tentative agreements have been reached on 30 of the 31 articles contained in the contract, Article V dealing with faculty health care benefits has stalled the negotiating process.
Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez, chief negotiator for YSU OEA and a professor in the philosophy and religious studies department, received an amended version of Article V from the administration on Monday; he said he intends to sign off on this version.
Palmer-Fernandez said that the university and the union had originally agreed upon Article V on Oct. 28 in a face-to-face meeting. However, when he received a copy of Article V to sign, some of the language had changed from their original agreement. After confronting the administration regarding this inconsistency in language, Palmer-Fernandez said he received an acceptable draft.
He added that he will review this copy of Article V and expects to sign it soon, assuming no further issues arise.
“If we have the language we agreed to, I will sign the language we agreed to,” Palmer-Fernandez said. “I believe that I’ve gotten good paper this time.”
Though it is likely a tentative agreement will be reached on Article V — creating a tentative agreement for the entire contract itself — both the university and the faculty still must ratify the contract.
Neither the administration nor the union has indicated with any certainty that ratification is imminent.
Interim provost Martin Abraham expressed concern regarding the ratification process.
“Just because we have a signed tentative agreement doesn’t mean we have a contract,” Abraham said. “I’m certainly not going to take anything for granted. I won’t rest easy until we have an approved ratified contract. I’m hopeful, but just having the signed tentative agreement for the entire document is certainly not the last of the hurdles that we have to get past.”
Palmer-Fernandez said the Board of Trustees is likely to ratify the contract, but he is not confident that faculty members will follow suit.
“I had not had a single [faculty member] say they are willing to ratify,” he said.
Palmer-Fernandez cited two reasons as to why ratification seems unlikely.
First, though the proposed contract includes a slight increase in faculty salary in the contract’s third year, there will also be a decrease in summer compensation. Palmer-Fernandez also indicated that — when considering the rate of inflation and a 1 percent increase in the amount of salary faculty pay into the State Teacher Retirement System of Ohio — the contract results in a net loss for faculty, especially for the highest paid faculty members.
Second, Palmer-Fernandez said that faculty members have expressed disappointment in the Board of Trustees, as demonstrated by the union’s recent vote of no confidence for the Board and administration.
“Most faculty believe that this Board of Trustees has led us down the wrong path,” he said. “I am looking for academic excellence. I am not finding that this Board is looking for the same thing.”
Palmer-Fernandez added that, though the approach of a tentative agreement is a positive development, it does not preclude the possibility of a strike.
“I think a lot of faculty feel we have got to send a message,” he said.
A fact-finding session — during which a fact-finder from the state reviews the proceedings of the negotiations and contract — scheduled for Nov. 10 has been cancelled.
“We are cancelling the fact finding session,” Palmer-Fernandez said. “That is important. That is news.”